Over 100,000 students from all post-secondary levels of education have recently been galvanized to exercise their right of association and call on a general boycott of academic activity in their places of study. What prompts me to write about this subject is not necessarily related with taking sides, but to analyzing the rationale behind unfreezing tuition fees in Quebec, and the movement behind the student boycott.
Expectation and Self-Reliance within Service Provision
When I go into a store to purchase an article, be it food, clothing or other less basic item, I expect my money be coupled with both quality and reasonable quantity. Similarly, when I pay money for an individual to provide me with a service, I expect that service to be of equal quality as the amount of money I am paying. The fundamental values of any modern taxation system go one step beyond the aforementioned examples, yet share a set of inherent ideas. As a citizen, one pays taxes to receive an array of services in return. In the handful of countries I have lived in, it has been a local reality to believe that the percentage directed to the state’s coffers will somehow be returned in the form of a previously agreed-upon service. Additionally, the availability and quality of this service will be directly proportional with the percentage of taxes being paid by the recipient of such service. The relationship between the amount of paid taxes and the services rendered by the state, in turn produces the interesting idea of expectation.
If a citizen is told by his/her government that taxes will be lowered for any given reason, this will have an effect on the availability and quality of services, to the extent that the agencies that provide such services will be forced to trim down on qualified personnel, equipment, and a productive working environment. The result of such a tax cut is a reduction of services and a perceived decrease in their quality. This idea has been touched upon on several occasions, to the point of becoming part of ideological doctrine. What I am interested in seeing is what happens when a citizen sees him/herself confronted with insufficiency and lack of quality in the government’s service provision capabilities.
The answer to this is self-reliance, which causes an individual’s expectation on government services to decrease. Self-reliance also causes individuals to seek basic services by alternative means beyond the scope of the government, which usually entails having to pay for private services. This logic would seem to work for those citizens that have the means to pay for such services, but what happens to those who cannot?
Ultimately, the decision of raising or lowering taxes has to do with a government’s nation plan, and to the degree of their service-provision commitment. In the case of the Quebec government’s intention to raise tuition fees by 75% over the next five years, the government is renouncing on its obligation to its tax payers to provide education whose cost is relative to the taxes paid by its users. The defenders of the tuition increase argue that even after the hikes, Quebec students will still pay less than in other parts of Canada. I believe this argument is an incomplete one, for it ignores the taxation element that results, as was observed before, in expectations for availability and quality of services. Insofar as Quebec citizens continue to pay the highest amount of taxes in Canada, they will continue to be entitled to a proportional amount and quality of services, which include education. In Quebec, there has been a long-standing agreement that affordable education is not a privilege, but a right, and this is certainly reflected in the revenue one pays.